Since its establishment in 1941, Luke Air Force Base has played a vital role in our nation’s security and in Arizona’s economy. I filed a lawsuit last week against Maricopa County to make sure its future is not jeopardized by the county’s failure to follow state law.
Luke’s importance to our nation’s defense can’t be overstated. Thousands of U.S. Air Force pilots trained there during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and throughout the Cold War. Today, it ranks as the largest F-16 training base in the world with more than 200 F-16s currently assigned. Its economic impact is huge, contributing an estimated $2.2 billion a year to the state — a large share of the $9.1 billion generated by all military facilities in Arizona.
In 2004, after extensive discussions and negotiations with governmental units and property owners, the Arizona Legislature approved two statutes designed to protect Luke from further residential encroachment. These laws were meant to safeguard not only Luke and other state military installations, but also the health and safety of residents living near these facilities.
The laws require political subdivisions in the vicinity of a military airport or ancillary military facility (such as Luke Auxiliary Field 1, a training field 15 miles northwest of the base) to protect those facilities from encroaching development. More specifically, the laws require local governments to adopt land use plans and enforce zoning regulations that assure development that is compatible with the high accident and noise potential associated with military airports.
All local governments in Maricopa County, with the notable exception of the county itself, have complied with the law. Since 2004, the county has issued nearly 100 residential building permits in zones with high accident and noise potential surrounding Luke and its ancillary facilities.
Last month, the county confirmed that it has not developed the required land use plans and has no intention to do so. That view willfully ignores the clear language of the laws. Cities surrounding Luke have acted to comply, and at a press conference announcing the lawsuit, mayors from Glendale, Peoria, Youngtown and Goodyear voiced their support for the suit and their frustration with the county’s actions. Peoria Mayor Bob Barrett referred to the need to protect Luke and enforce the land use laws by saying, “This is as crucial as it gets for the West Valley.”
By continuing to issue residential building permits near Luke and its related facilities, the county threatens their continued viability, as well as public safety. For Luke to maintain its excellent reputation and eminent standing as the country’s premier fighter pilot training base, the 2004 statutes must be obeyed.
My suit, which can be read at www.azag.gov, asks Maricopa County Superior Court to require the county to adopt the land use general plans and zoning regulations that are required by law to protect these military facilities. I will seek an injunction to stop the county from issuing any further building permits that do not follow the law.
Protecting Luke and its associated facilities is of paramount importance to Arizona. I regret that filing this lawsuit was necessary, but the county’s belligerence, which puts Luke’s future at risk, left no other choice. If Maricopa County truly supports Luke, as county officials often state, they can best show that support by following state law.
Terry Goddard is Arizona attorney general.